A day after what for the All Blacks was a calamity in Christchurch – their first ever home defeat to Argentina – head coach Ian Foster has called for the nation to support the team, saying everyone involved with it is hurting.
The Pumas’ 25-18 victory – fully deserved for their second-half defensive effort in particular – is another in a long list of unwanted records for Foster and his team.
It was the first time the All Blacks have lost three Tests in a row at home and their sixth defeat in their last eight matches.
Foster and the All Blacks now travel to Hamilton for another Test against Argentina on Saturday with an overall Rugby Championship victory still a possibility after Australia beat South Africa in Adelaide, but with more questions about the direction this squad is heading in and the messages it is getting.
On Saturday night in the immediate aftermath of the loss, Foster and skipper Sam Cane spoke of their frustration at the lack of composure the All Blacks showed in the face of the Pumas’ pressure.
There few specifics, just talk of rebuilding, progress being made and disappointment.
On Sunday, Foster focused on his side’s misguided determination to run their way out of trouble, saying it was part of his team’s DNA but that they needed to respect the opposition a little more.
But first, the sting of another defeat.
“It’s frustrating I’m sure for the viewers and the fans and it’s frustrating for us,” Foster said. “We have got a lot of faith that some of the things we’re building are paying dividends, but it needs to happen quickly. We know that.”
Asked whether the scrutiny would ramp up once again over the next seven days, Foster, who earned a reprieve from his employers after his side came back to beat the Boks at Johannesburg a fortnight ago, replied: “Of course, of course. I guess right now that’s part of my job.
“My only request … we sold out Orangetheory Stadium and I thought the attitude of the crowd to the team afterwards was fantastic. We just need as much support as we can get now. It’s hurting … and if people want to get angry that’s their choice.”
Unfortunately for New Zealand Rugby and Foster and company, there will be anger; anger at the way the All Blacks failed to capitalise on their halftime lead and forward dominance against a Pumas team that had offered little on attack, and anger too at the head coach earning a reprieve in the first place before failing again at the home of local favourite Scott Robertson.
There was a sense of inevitability around how the Pumas took the lead for the first time with about 30 minutes to go via Juan Martin Gonzalez’s converted try, and added to it with two more penalties. They then simply held on against an All Black team that broke itself like a wave on a blue and white seawall.
The lack of variety on attack was an issue for Foster, but clearly the team’s backline leaders including halfback Aaron Smith, first-five Richie Mo’unga and the midfield of David Havili and Rieko Ioane failed to ask the right questions of the Argentine defence.
“I lingered on a lot,” Foster said of the result and performance. “I’ve been through it. Clearly… we were pretty dominant early. We got ourselves in a position in that last 30 where I thought Argentina stayed in the game, they put us under a lot of defensive pressure and we stuck I guess to the All Black DNA.
“We tried to play and carry our way through a really strong defensive line and we need to be smarter about how we offer variety around that.
“It seems we’re taking a couple of steps forward and then one step back so that is frustrating. We are trying to build some new stuff there but we just have to keep working on that.”
He added: “We’ve got to look at that last quarter and our response to teams that want to stifle us. We’ve done a lot research about the games we’ve lost over the last 10 years and there’s a similar pattern in our DNA – we like to hold on to the ball and run our way out of trouble. It’s probably a New Zealand rugby thing and we’ve got to sort that out.
“It’s not that easy to fix. In the first half it was a strength. We were forcing them to make a lot of tackles.”
Hooker Samisoni Taukei’aho, a try scorer in the first half, was one of the few to emerge with his reputation enhanced, and loose forwards Shannon Frizell and Ardie Savea carried the ball with purpose in the first half.
Ioane and Jordie Barrett combined nicely for Caleb Clarke’s try but there were few other attacking highlights and Mo’unga, a promising run out of defence excepted, wasn’t influential enough.
Skipper Sam Cane, again replaced late in the match, will again be the focus of public angst. He was busy defensively but didn’t carry effectively which put more of a load on Frizell and Savea.
“Clearly he’s under the spotlight,” Foster said of Cane. “We’re all under the spotlight when things don’t go well. But behind the scenes strong. I thought a lot of his tackling and work around the breakdown was a bit shift up on the last two games and we’re pleased with that.”
Foster said NZ Rugby boss Mark Robinson, in Australia on holiday, had been in touch overnight.
Lock Brodie Retallick and props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tu’ungafasi may come into the frame for the match at Waikato Stadium, along with Beauden Barrett who trained well on Saturday, he said.
For Foster, it’s back to the comforts of home this week but attempting to spark his team’s attack for their second go against the Pumas may cause him a few sleepless nights, and another defeat after he was guaranteed safe passage until the World Cup would create a whole new level of intrigue.